Our Team

Rachel Brooks

Founder/Chief Executive Officer

Welcome! I’m the Founder and CEO of Securing Safe Food Corp. (SSF) and a second-year undergraduate student in New Jersey, studying English and Classics on a premedical track. I’m interested in languages and literature, ancient medicine, and inequities in health. On campus, I lead FACTUAL, the Food Allergy and Celiac Team for University Advocacy and Living, which I co-founded in 2022. Outside of university, I research food insecurity and food access behaviors with Feinberg School of Medicine’s Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research (CFAAR) and Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago—work which will intersect with our research goals here at SSF.

Click here to read the full letter from our founder.

Sydney Hankin

Chief Operating Officer

Hi everyone! My name is Sydney Hankin and I’m a senior in high school in New York, NY, with allergies to peanuts, most tree nuts, sesame seed, and raw egg. I also have FPIES to broad beans and quinoa, a type of food allergy that affects the gastrointestinal tract. I was diagnosed with food allergies before I was eating solid food, so I quite literally cannot remember a time before I knew I had allergies and was responsible for all the condition entails: reading and re-reading labels at supermarkets, asking waiters and chefs to check menu ingredients, and bringing homemade cupcakes to childhood birthday parties. 

Growing up, I remember when allergy-friendly foods, such as sunflower butter or nut-free granola bars, were a new concept, difficult to find in nearby supermarkets. Now, they have become much more prevalent, and I’m so fortunate to be able to access and afford these specialty items. But since so many allergen-free staples are manufactured by smaller, family-owned companies, they are understandably expensive, too much so for many people to afford. Being part of a program that brings these incredibly essential products to those who need them most—food-allergic families facing food insecurity—is truly a gift, and has been such a formative part of my high school years. 

Outside of SSF, I am an extremely avid reader and write book reviews for the national publication BookPage. I’m also on the Junior Board of the nonprofit organization Learn To Be, where I serve as a volunteer tutor. In my free time, I love to listen to and play bluegrass music (I’ve been taking fiddle lessons for the past two years!) and bake nut-free desserts with my family.

Sara Hantgan

Director of Donor Relations

My name is Sara Hantgan and I am a sophomore at the University of Michigan studying Cognitive Science on the premedical track! Growing up with a laundry list of food allergies (dairy, sesame, banana, mustard, mango, avocado, flax and chia seeds, tree nuts, eggs, and garlic—luckily, this list has since shrunk to only dairy, sesame, banana, and mustard in comparison) has driven my passion to get involved with community action as well as academic research. My allergies drove my initial research questions in regards to adolescents’ with food allergies safety, where I designed and analyzed a quantitative study to evaluate student knowledge regarding food allergies. Just in this small study, I learned that the majority of students did not know the 8 most common allergens, nor did they know how to respond to an allergic reaction. Navigating life with food allergies is hard as it is and becomes more difficult given the ambiguity in food labeling and lack of education on food allergy safety and reaction prevention. Just from my own experiences, I have struggled in public spaces to find safe food from a trustworthy source of information. In the food bank system, this challenge increases tremendously. Action needs to be taken to promote a safer climate for individuals with food allergies and increase accessibility of safe food, which is why I was so excited to be a part of SSF’s mission. 

Aside from SSF, my research interests have evolved over the years, from not only food allergies, but to health technology and how it can impact patient education and chronic disease outcomes. I am now a student research assistant collaborating with researchers of various disciplines delving into this idea. As the world continues to become more technology centric, I hope to continue doing research in the health tech arena. On campus, I am also a Hillel mentor or ‘Big FYSH’ to provide a resource to freshman students to ask any questions and just have a familiar face on such a big campus! 

Gemma Levy

Director of Communications

My name is Gemma Levy, I am a senior in high school and live in Brooklyn with my incredible family. I joined SSF at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed to me the deep-seated social inequalities that afflict my different communities—including my food-allergic community. This global crisis coincided with my transition into adulthood, and spurred in me a desire to both found and become a part of initiatives that better the world I am maturing into. These endeavors have come to inform the person that I am, and the ways in which I interface with the world around me. 

Moio—the social enterprise I founded that broadens the market reach of Zimbabwean artisan communities and provides disadvantaged women business and vocational training—is how I sought to mitigate pandemic-induced economic hardship for my closest community. Zimbabwean myself, I have watched women who previously lacked the tools, resources and confidence to attain financial security become empowered by their own potential. 

After getting Moio off the ground, a close friend and original SSF member, Sydney Hankin, informed me of her work helping the food-allergic community—which I am indeed a member of—access safe food. Realizing that there was much work to be done on the domestic front, I asked if I could join the initiative. I offered the marketing knowledge I had gained starting my own business, but received so much more. Seeing the inner workings of Securing Safe Food, being a member of such an incredible team of young women, has been such an incredible learning experience. 

Danielle Huli

Outreach Coordinator

Hello! My name is Danielle! I’m a sophomore at Northeastern University studying Biochemistry. I am from just outside Albany, NY, and am allergic to peanuts. I love doing biological research and have had many very interesting experiences, such as studying yeast this summer! I am also thinking of pursuing a medical school path, and am figuring out if that path is right for me. Either way, I would be interested in incorporating food allergy research and/or treatment in my future career! On top of being an Outreach Coordinator for Securing Safe Food, I am V.P. of Communications of my school’s book club and a Fundraising Events Co-Chair of my school’s Relay for Life! 

Food allergies, especially life-threatening ones, can be costly to live with. I am fortunate that I am able to purchase food I know is safe for me. However, many individuals with food allergies aren’t able to afford the often high prices of allergy-friendly foods. Finding safe products can especially be difficult if individuals rely on the limited options that food pantries provide. I joined Securing Safe Food to help people in this situation be able to live a safer life. One of the most difficult parts to overcome with a life-threatening allergy, for me, is the anxiety and stress that comes with not knowing whether the food you consume is safe for you. I want to help alleviate these feelings in people with food allergies. Working with allergy-friendly brands that are enthusiastic about our cause to help provide allergy-safe food to food pantries is so important and gratifying.

Whether it be through research, medicine, or organizations such as and including Securing Safe Food, I hope to continue my food allergy advocacy and helping individuals with food allergies throughout my life. 

Lizzy Anderlik

Outreach Coordinator

Lizzy Anderlik is a freshman at DePaul University in Chicago, IL, studying Health Sciences on the pre-med track. At age five, she was diagnosed with an allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and sunflower seeds. Her allergies have been a huge part of her life, which is why she is passionate about making allergy-friendly foods easily accessible. Throughout the past few years, Lizzy has become an advocate for several nonprofit organizations that work on behalf of the food allergy community, including Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Some of her advocacy highlights include lobbying on Capitol Hill for the FASTER Act and sharing her story at various food allergy conferences. Being a part of such a driven, powerful community inspires her to continue to speak out for change. In addition to her advocacy work, Lizzy enjoys baking, hiking, and listening to music. She is also passionate about disability advocacy and works as an Inclusion Aid for the Northwest Special Recreation Association.

Lila Wilkinson

Outreach Coordinator

Hello! My name is Lila Wilkinson and I am an Outreach Coordinator at Securing Safe Food Corp. I am currently a sophomore in high school at Thaden School in Bentonville, Arkansas. In my free time, I participate in sports and clubs including volleyball, track, and yearbook. I also enjoy volunteering and recently won the Presidential Volunteer Award. When I am at home, my favorite things to do are read and bake.

My allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, and soy. I discovered my peanut and tree nut allergy when I was two years old, and it has been a huge part of my life ever since. Having severe allergies has prevented me from doing so many things, such as flying on a plane or being able to attend summer camp, but I am privileged enough to have access to foods that are safe for me to eat. Allergy-friendly foods are typically much more expensive than normal products, and I want to make sure everyone with allergies has access to these foods. 

I decided to join SSF in my freshman year of high school after taking a class on food insecurity and learning what a problem it was in not just my local area, but all over the United States. The food allergy community that suffers from food insecurity often gets overlooked, and food that is safe for them isn’t always provided in food pantries. I believe that SSF is a big help to this community, and I am glad to be a part of the cause

Gabriella DiGiovanni

Head Food Pantry Coordinator

As a motivated 17-year-old high school senior, I am very active within my school and local community. I currently live in Wayne, New Jersey, with my sister and my parents. Throughout the school year, I am involved in both community service and academic clubs, and specifically during the winter and spring seasons, I run track and pole vault for my high school’s track team. I also lead and take part in a variety of local initiatives in my town. Outside of volunteering and school events, I enjoy attending concerts, working out, and trying new allergy-friendly granola bars! 

Back in early 2020 and from my new allergist’s suggestions, I had started researching oral immunotherapy (OIT) treatment for my walnut/pecan and hazelnut allergies, which I later began in July of 2021. I am also allergic to peanuts and macadamia nuts. My new allergist had introduced me to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)’s website, where I discovered their Teen Advisory Group for teenagers and young adults with food allergies. It was through this group that I learned about and became involved with Securing Safe Food in March of 2020. This idea particularly caught my attention since it aimed to assist an overlooked group of individuals—those with food allergies who utilize food pantries. This initiative has helped so many people, and I am happy to be a part of it!

Emily Parris

Food Pantry Coordinator

I’m Emily, a high school senior from Raleigh, North Carolina. I am currently applying to colleges and hope to study psychology with the ultimate goal of getting my master’s degree in social work. I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.  

I was diagnosed with food allergies as an infant but didn’t really find my place in the food-allergic community until much later. When I attended my first Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) conference, I fell in love with food allergy advocacy. In the following years, I joined FARE’s Teen Advisory Group, wrote 2 articles on traveling and dining with food allergies, participated in a research study on airlines and allergies, and gave presentations to elementary school children about EpiPens. I decided I wanted to focus on food insecurity when, in March of 2020, I became the lead for the Food Allergy and Food Insecurity (FAFI) North Carolina policy scan. We collected data from and provided educational materials to 115 school districts in order to advocate for students with medically restricted diets that received free meals. Working at SSF allows me to combine my passions for data analysis, research, and advocacy. 

When I’m not working at SSF, I like to read, spend time with my dog, and travel (my favorite destination so far is New York City).

Lila Hwang

Food Pantry Coordinator

My name is Lila Hwang and I am a high school junior from Rochester, New York. I attend an all-girls Catholic school, which is where I discovered my passion for service. Along with service are other passions like filmmaking, marine biology, fashion design, and linguistics. However, I am most passionate about competitive dance. My studio supports versatility with styles from classical ballet to contemporary/modern to tap, and I love them all.

I have been allergic to milk since I was born. Questions from my friends emphasizing the abnormality of food allergies coupled with those regarding my half Korean, half Greek and Irish ethnicity were not uncommon. However, I never saw reason to complain about these situations, as I knew how lucky I was in comparison to my older brother. I have two older brothers, the oldest with food allergies and the middle without. My oldest brother is allergic to peanuts, dairy, eggs, beef, mustard, and gluten. He was born in the 90s, when food allergies were much less known than they are now. I would say I had it easy growing up, where my parents were experts on the subject and my own school’s chef would make me and the other food-allergic students special meals. My brother, on the other hand, was the child who made my parents these experts. At daycare, his bottle of soy milk was mixed up with another child’s bottle of dairy. At a restaurant, he reacted to his salad which had mustard greens. At a basketball tournament, he ate the team’s cheese popcorn instead of his own, and couldn’t finish the game. These and many more preventable reactions came from a lack of knowledge. A general knowledge of food allergies has since grown tremendously, but much has not yet been achieved. The need for increased food allergy education is what motivates me to work with organizations like Securing Safe Food, and through it I have been provided so many opportunities to raise awareness about food allergies and aid those who are less financially able to accommodate such conditions. Securing Safe Food is fostering safe environments for those with food allergies, and my support to SSF is my support to people like my brother.

Keller Mobley

Food Pantry Coordinator

Hi! I’m Keller! I’m a junior in the Journalism and Communication magnet at my high school in Louisville, KY. My role is a Food Pantry Coordinator for SSF. I’m also involved with various clubs and activities around my school and in my community. My favorite is a newsmagazine called On the Record – I am a member of the marketing team as a promotional coordinator. I’m not sure what I want to do later on in my career, but I’m very interested in business and journalism! I spend the majority of my time outside of school playing volleyball for a club and for school. When not playing or training for volleyball, you can probably find me traveling, spending time outside, exploring my city with friends, reading, or walking my dogs.

I was diagnosed with a tree nut allergy in first grade along with several other food allergies. I am one of three family members to have a food allergy. I’m passionate about spreading more awareness about food allergies, so allergen free options become more common in more diverse settings. I’m motivated to keep my family members and other community members with food allergies safe!

Sami Sanders

Compliance and Development Associate

Hi! I’m Sami. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, and I am currently a junior in high school. At six months old, I was diagnosed with several life-threatening food allergies, including dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, and sweet potatoes. My desire to advocate for food allergies began when I started elementary school. After listing my allergies, kids would ask, “What can you even eat?”, or “So you’ve never had ice cream?” I didn’t know how to answer them. Now, as a 16-year-old, I realize that I have the capability to advocate for myself and educate those around me.

I can still remember how thrilled I was to try soy cheese for the first time after I grew out of my soy allergy. The allergen-free food industry has come such a long way since then! Costs, though, have only gone up. I have struggled with finding safe food in public places and have learned to always have a snack on hand—just in case. But I know this is not a possible option for all individuals. This is one of the reasons Securing Safe Food is such an amazing nonprofit, because finding allergen-friendly food is difficult by itself. But add in the factor of finding it in a food pantry, where staff and volunteers are just trying to provide standard necessities, and it becomes that much harder. 

Outside of SSF, I am the president of the German Club at my school. Learning the German language is one of my favorite things to do in my free time besides working on my graphic design skills, baking, and playing tennis. I’m also active in a number of other organizations, such as HOSA, a medical club at my high school, where I serve as the technology coordinator. My dream career is to be a dermatologist or an allergist! Although I’ve only just begun advocating, I’ve always known that I wanted to make a significant contribution to the allergy community. Securing Safe Food is doing just that. Now, when someone asks what I can eat, I confidently respond, “More than you would think!”